His race against Grant for the presidency cost him his reputation and, maybe, his life.
There has been something almost tragic about the close of Mr. Greeley’s career. After a life of on the whole remarkable success and prosperity, he has fallen under the weight of accumulated misfortunes. Nobody who heard him last April, at the meeting in the Cooper Institute, declare that “he accepted the Cincinnati Convention and its consequences,” but must be struck by the illustration of what is called “the irony of fate” which nearly everything that has since occurred affords. His nomination, from whatever point of view we look at it, was undoubtedly a high honor. The manner in which it was received down to the Baltimore Convention was very flattering. Whether it was a proper thing to “beat Grant” or not, that so large and so shrewd a body of his countrymen should have thought Mr. Greeley the man to do it was a great compliment. It found him, too, in possession of all the influence which the successful pursuit of his own calling could give a man–the most powerful editor in the Union, surrounded by friends and admirers, feared or courted by nearly everybody in public life, and in the full enjoyment of widespread popular confidence in his integrity. In six short months he was well-nigh undone. He had endured a humiliating defeat, which scorned to him to indicate the loss of what was his dearest possession, the affection of the American people; he had lost the weight in public affairs which he had built up by thirty years of labor; he saw his property and, as he thought, that of his friends diminished by the attempt to give him a prize which he had in his own estimation fairly earned, and, though last not least, he found his home invaded by death, and one of the strongest of the ties which bind a man to this earth broken. It would not be wonderful if, under those circumstances, the coldest and toughest of men should lie down and die. But Mr. Greeley was neither cold nor tough. He was keenly sensitive both to praise and blame. The applause of even paltry men gladdened him, and their censure stung him. Moreover, he had that intense longing for reputation as a man of action by which men of the closet are so often torn, in spite of all that his writing brought him in reputation, be writhed under the popular belief that be could do nothing but write, and he spent the flower of his years trying to convince the public that it was mistaken about him. It was to this we owed whatever was ostentatious in his devotion to farming and in his interest in the manufacturing industry of the country. It was to this, too, that we owed his keen and lifelong desire for office, and, in part at least, his activity in getting offices for other people. Office-seekers have become in the United States so ridiculous and so contemptible a class, that a man can hardly seek a place in the public service without incurring a certain amount of odium; and perhaps nothing did more damage to Mr. Greeley’s reputation than his anxiety to be put in places of trust or dignity. And yet it is doubtful if many men seek office with more respectable motives than his. For pecuniary emolument he cared nothing; but be did pine all his life long for some conspicuous recognition of his capacity for the conduct of affairs, and he never got it. The men who have nominations to bestow either never had confidence enough in his judgment or ability to offer him anything which he would have thought worthy of his expectations when there was the least chance of their choice receiving a popular ratification, or they disliked him, as politicians are apt to dislike an editor in the political arena, as a man who, in having a newspaper at his back, is sure not to play their game fairly. The consequence was that he was constantly irritated by finding how purely professional his influence was, or, in other words, what a mortifying disproportion existed between his editorial and his personal power. The first revelation the public had of the bitterness of his disappointment on this score was caused by the publication of the famous Seward letter, and the surprise it caused was perhaps the highest compliment Mr. Greeley ever received. It showed with what success he had prevented his private griefs from affecting his public action, and people are always ready to forgive ambition as an “infirmity of noble minds,” even when they do not feel disposed to reward it.